The Los Angeles Dodgers are currently in first place in the National League West and two games behind the Atlanta Braves for home field advantage. The team has been on an absolute tear since falling 12 games under .500 on June 22. The pitching is strong, the hitting is timely and the bullpen has been consistent. It would seem as if everything is going right for the Dodgers and the strangest part is that it has been, for the most part, without their superstar Matt Kemp.
Kemp has been sidelined since July 21 with an ankle injury just a few days after returning from a hamstring injury. He started one game and went 3-4 with a home run but the injury was a freak play as a result of a lack of hustle from the Dodgers center fielder.
Kemp played in five rehab games with the Dodgers minor league affiliate the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. He is currently continuing his rehab at the Dodgers complex in Arizona.
As his ankle was recovering, Kemp was temporarily shut down with an apparent hamstring injury. Another setback seemingly would take the slugger out for the remainder of the season. However, it looks as if Kemp could potentially return for the last two weeks of the season.
The Dodgers will face a huge decision if and when Kemp does return.
Should Matt Kemp assume his position as the Dodgers starting center fielder?
The question may seem ridiculous to some but the reality of the situation is much more difficult to answer.
First, Kemp struggled all season long when healthy and failed to show the production expected from the 2011 Most Valuable Player runner up. In 62 games, the outfielder hit .263 with just five home runs and 27 RBI. In addition, Kemp went 0-18 with seven strikeouts in his five rehab games in single-A.
Second, the Dodgers have been doing well without the injured Kemp. Andre Ethier has manned centerfield with little problem while rookie Yasiel Puig has been a catalyst since his arrival. Carl Crawford has been consistent in left field giving the Dodgers a strong outfield.
What do the Dodgers do?
They would have a few choices.
The Dodgers could hold Kemp out and just give him a full offseason to rest and recover. The team is playing well enough to warrant this decision but could backfire if a World Series is not won and Kemp is nowhere to be found.
On the other end, the Dodgers could thrust Kemp back into the starting lineup as if nothing has happened. The Dodgers should have the division clinched before Kemp is ready to return and would have the flexibility to let him find himself before the playoffs.
The last and best way to handle the situation is to have a platoon set up with Ethier. Kemp has handled left-handed pitchers very well in his career and Ethier has not. This would give Kemp a chance to ease his way back and potentially reclaim his spot for the playoffs.
Whatever the Dodgers decide, it will be another interesting story to an already interesting season that could end with an October celebration.